It was two am on a Friday turned Saturday and I was laying on my couch watching a drama comedy about a coming of age. On the Edge of Seventeen.
I found myself watching this girl make one awful choice after another, as teenagers often do. At the climax of her epic bad decision making, she walked out of the car of a boy she barely knew after yelling at him to stop because he was pushing himself onto her too fast.
She walked out of that car into a dark, deserted parking lot and it was raining. The camera angle focused on her slumped against a cement wall with the bright city skyline in sharp contrast to the dark night behind her. I imagined it was past two am in the movie too. She started sobbing, hard heaves that made her body tremble and in response I felt tears trickle down my face onto the pillow I was propped up against on the couch.
In my mind, I was seventeen years old again. I cried with her for all the bad decisions I made too. The soundtrack was “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra – a slow, melancholy rhythm with lyrics to match. The scene was sad and yet strikingly beautiful, like poetry.
I started thinking about seventeen year old me and was reminded that out of the many things I did wrong, one of the things I did at that age that I am grateful for was journal. I journaled religiously. So I cracked open the hidden stash I’ve been keeping for over ten years and revisit my teenage self. I found the 2007 leather bound journal and started to read. This sparked many more tears.
I started playing soundtracks from my life, songs that have lyrics and influence sprinkled throughout my entries. From “Emotional Rollercoaster” by Vivian Green to Missy Higgin’s “The Special Two” – I played the music and I let the tears fall down my face without trying to wipe them away. I realized I had some sadness to release and this was therapeutic.
When I was sixteen years old, my first love and most tragic heart break left me. He hit me with the Donell Jones “Where I Wanna Be” – “it’s not you, it’s me” nonsense. I was fortunate enough to live across the street and a few houses down from him, so I enjoyed the aftermath of watching him date and impregnate the next girl.
During the time we spent together, he was often frustrated by my tears. His words dripping with disdain ring in my memory like a distant bell. “You cry for everything,” he told me often, with frustration etched onto his face.
Most of the partners I’ve had since then have felt similarly. That I cry too often and that I do it to make myself the victim, especially in moments I am to blame for the conflict at hand. I wish more of them would have understood what I couldn’t articulate then, but I know to be true now – that crying is my form of releasing emotion.
In the beginning, my crying was an issue in my marriage too. I would be greeted with a stonewall of emotion when tears clouded my eyes. He felt as though I couldn’t think clearly or have a logical conversation because of my tears. I had to explain that I cried because I cared, because I was so invested. I compared my tears to the sweat of someone under immense physical strain. My pressure was the emotional kind and my sweat were the tears.
He’s come a long way in the past two and a half years. Sometimes he even asks me if I need to cry.
I called my mother in law once right before I got married in almost tears over the stress of trying to throw together a ceremony while uniting two completely different families. She abruptly told me to wash my face and stop crying because it would not help.
I called her again recently with raw emotion swelling in my voice. I usually recoil at the thought of calling her when I’m in this emotional of a state but I didn’t know who else to call. This time I responded when she said, “Don’t cry.”
I told her that sometimes I just need to cry. She responded that she spoke to me from a place of wanting me to feel better. What she didn’t understand that I had to explain to her was that crying helped me feel better. Crying helps me release the anxiety, the frustration and the hurt so that I can better reflect and move on.
Crying is an essential component of being human. I wish more people would understand that. It is the body’s way of freeing and ridding itself of overwhelming emotion. Research shows that 9 out of 10 people feel better after a good cry. I know I do.
I don’t just cry when I’m sad. Tears are my natural response to frustration. They are my natural response to unadulterated joy and surprise. I don’t only cry when loved ones are in pain. I tear when they achieve their dreams against all odds. My eyes cloud when they exhibit self-awareness of damaging behaviors. My tear ducts activate when I’m overtaken by any one of a variety of powerful emotions and I need a release.
I’ve been told that crying is a sign of weakness. That when you cry you are giving up power and respect.
I think that’s stupid – the giving up of power and respect part at least. I also think it’s probably a little true that crying can be a sign of weakness. My question is, so what?!
We are all imperfect. We all have weaknesses. Why walk around pretending to be perfect and stoic, especially in our personal relationships? That’s part of the problem with our society. Everyone is walking around trying to be a superhero, but superheroes all have a kryptonite. And I’m pretty sure superheroes cry too.
I am reminded of the piece “Superhuman” that sister Queen, Whitney McNulty, published in her debut collection of poetry, Awakenings.
I used to take people telling me I cried a lot as an insult.
I’d feel so ashamed
Quickly retreat back into hiding
It feels like a superpower
It takes a lot of supernatural strength to dress in the naked
Armor of vulnerability
To let them see you,
I mean really see you through your tears
To let each droplet say
The words you can’t quite formulate
Yes, it takes a multitude of strength to resist the urge to resist
And let the current consume you…
Wave by wave
Just release and let it flow
It takes a lot of strength to be completely genuine with
With all awareness
Admit your weakness
Anxiety rushes in
Unrestrained like a wildfire
Perhaps even often
In flames of
Tears of serenity
Letting them fall
With a full smile on your face…
I used to think of crying as a sure sign of weakness.
Perhaps it just makes me superhuman
In all our imperfection,
How could we ever experience sheer joy
If we’ve never allowed ourselves to fully feel the pain?
Rainbows can only be seen
After the rain.
I don’t apologize for crying anymore and I respond with a sharp tongue if someone dares belittle me for my vulnerability. I still struggle with not saying, “I’m ok” mid cry session in front a friend.
It’s a process and a journey. I’ll keep working at wearing my armor of vulnerability with pride.